The Latest Chapter of an Ignored Legacy
Closely following the path taken by his hero C.C. Sabathia, Triston McKenzie is leading the revival of a legacy & culture that Satchel Paige brought to the Cleveland Guardians franchise in 1948
When Satchel Paige became the first Black pitcher to record an appearance in a game in the AL as a swingman for Cleveland’s pitching staff in 1948, he joined a ball club that had already cultivated a reputation and history for finding great starters.
Posting a 2.78 ERA in 155.2 innings across two seasons in a Cleveland uniform, Paige brought culture and standards from the Negro Leagues that have been closely followed by other Black pitchers who have spent extended periods with the Cleveland Guardians franchise. Notable names such as Luis Tiant II, James Grant, and C.C. Sabathia are included in this fraternity.
The first individual of Jamaican descent to pitch for Cleveland at the major league level, Triston McKenzie has shown that he has the potential to pitch his way to being in this group since he was selected by Cleveland in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. In addition to his development as a starter, he has actively played a part in maintaining the culture Satchel Paige brought to this organization and MLB as a whole.
McKenzie often cites the aforementioned Sabathia as someone who inspired him to embark on the path he chose, such as in this interview he did with Andre Knott of Bally Sports Ohio. Former and current Black starting pitchers in the Guardians farm system who have attested to this culture include Xzavion Curry, Tahnaj Thomas, and Juan Hillman Jr.
He has shown flashes of dominance at varying lengths, including an MLB debut during the shortened 2020 season where he went six scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out ten after not pitching in a professional game in almost two years. 2021 was his first full season and it featured a plethora of impressive feats by someone who broke camp on a 25-man roster for the first time to go with the typical growing pains and struggles. Young starting pitchers typically take a lot of haymakers to the chin as they attempt to establish themselves in the majors and the 24-year-old is no stranger, having dealt with minor injuries, issues commanding his pitches, and concerning drops in fastball velocity for short stints of time.
Through 29.1 innings across five starts and six total appearances in 2022, McKenzie has put up a 2.76 ERA. He’s allowed no more than four hits or two earned runs in all but one of his appearances, going at least three innings in every game he’s pitched so far in 2022. Cleveland is very successful when he’s pitching, going 4–1 in his six appearances and scoring seven or more runs in three of his starts. While the season is still young, it is great to see McKenzie take steps forward towards being the pitcher he still has yet to become.
When you look at the Cleveland Guardians franchise history it is easy to see that a large quantity of the team’s lore, history, and success is tied to Black players in comparison to the average MLB franchise. While this legacy is ignored by many throughout the realms of baseball, it makes me happy that it is still being noticed and actively sought out by the Black baseball players who play for this franchise. As more and more Black baseball players from throughout the African diaspora trickle into MiLB and MLB, highlighting legacies like these as examples that have formed in an organic and intentional matter are some of the best ways to promote the sport and its history.
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